By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Jack Bowe has been coaching tennis collegiately in Central Minnesota for nearly 40 years, but he’s never experienced a spring quite like this.
Aside from a trip to Florida in early March, the Saint John’s University tennis coach and his team have played outdoors just twice – a 6-3 MIAC win at Bethel on April 9 and a 6-3 non-conference win at Northwestern (Minn. ) on April 21.
Other than that, the unseasonably cold and windy weather (complete with multiple days of rain or sleet) have forced all their matches to be held indoors. Which means the Johnnies have yet to play on campus. All of their home matches – including a key conference matchup against Hamline scheduled for tonight (April 28) – have had to be moved to the indoor courts at Sta-Fit, a health club in Sartell.
In fact, Bowe said the team has only been outside for practice three or four times. Otherwise, he and his players have either been at Sta-Fit or in the Donald McNeely Spectrum at SJU.
“This is my 25th season at Saint John’s, and before that I was at St. Ben’s for six and St. Cloud State for six before that,” Bowe said. “I’ve never gone through a season without having a home match outdoors. This spring has been a really unique situation.
“In a good year, we’re sometimes outside by the end of March. But April 9 is always the magic date in my head. That’s the date you want to be outside by. It may rain or snow a few times and drive you back indoors for a few days.But generally, after April 9, you’re able to be outside pretty consistently.Good grief, it’s almost May now.So we’re a full month past that.
“We could try to go outside just to do it,” he continued. “But when it’s as cold and windy as it’s been, you’re not going to get any quality work in. Your hands freeze and there’s more of a risk of injury. You’ll drive past and see some of the high school teams out there because they have nowhere else to go. But it’s not a good way to do it.”
But Bowe said going indoors has its drawbacks too. To begin with, there is the cost of securing court time at Sta-Fit. Then there is the fact that tennis indoors and outdoors can be two different games.
“The floor is different, especially in the field house (whose surface is not ITA approved, which precludes it from being used for actual matches),” Bowe said. “It’s kind of like playing on an ice rink in there. It’s like a speedball coming at you.
“You also don’t have to worry about the wind or the sun, which are things you have to adjust to when you play outdoors. So there are a lot of differences you deal with.”
Still, SJU has managed to weather (pardon the pun) the situation pretty well. Heading into tonight’s match against Hamline, the Johnnies are 9-6 (5-3 MIAC) and in fourth place in the MIAC standings. A win against the Pipers would wrap up the No. 4 seed in next week’s five-team conference playoffs – setting up a home match against the No. 5 seed in the quarterfinals on Wednesday (May 4).
“We’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at,” said sophomore mike krasowski, who boasts a 6-5 record in singles play. “Everybody is playing their best tennis right now. We’re coming off a couple of tough matches, but we’ve pulled together and we’re ready to get back into the swing of things.”
Of course, Krasowski is hoping the weather will allow for a potential home playoff match outdoors at SJU.
“It would be nice to actually have one match on campus where all our friends can come out and watch,” Krasowski said. “But we have no control over the weather. All we can take care of is how we play.”
Bowe said the situation is not unique to his team. It’s one every school in the conference is dealing with.
“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Luckily, we all have places to go. Minnesota has a lot of indoor clubs for this very reason. You can never count on the weather this time of year.
“But this spring has been something else.”